Making Tallinn Healthier through Interaction Design

Nesli Hazal Oktay
Published in
6 min readOct 22, 2019

For the Introduction to Human-Centered Interaction Design class of 2019, our newest students from all around the World were tasked to figure out how human-centered interaction design could help make Tallinn a healthier place to live in. Students worked in teams and found their own focus after gathering inspiring insights from people and the city.

It is a common misconception that interaction design is seen as designing digital interfaces. So, it was intriguing to see that all the teams decided to focus on mental health and to help people to escape screens to be more present at the moment.

Enabling Small Moments of Mindfulness Through Traffic Lights

What if we could transform the negative experience of waiting at the red traffic light into a moment of mindfulness, and encourage Tallinners to actually stop for 30 seconds in their hectic lives?

Kaari, Nataliia, and Sander realised that Tallinn citizens don’t have time to add more to their busy schedules. In their investigation, they conducted tens of conversations all at different stages of their journey. The initial interviews gave them insights to start with, while the following helped to refine the concepts and confirm hypotheses.

The final design challenge they took on was to help people escape the city without leaving Tallinn. After careful consideration, they narrowed down the term ‘escape’ to getting away from the noise, mobile phones, work, and private life worries. They were guided by the values we found out from the interviews:

  1. Independence
  2. Flexibility
  3. Balance

How did they tweak a typical daily activity without disrupting the life flow? After exploring, prototyping and validating many concepts, the team arrived at an elegantly simple idea: transform the negative experience of waiting at the red traffic light into a moment of mindfulness, by changing the red light into an animation that simulates a breathing meditation. The concept can consequently lead to feeling more present in the current moment and relieve some stress caused by the fast pace of living in Estonia’s capital.

Using Interactive Art To Turn the Daily Commute Into a Meaningful & Collective Experience

What if we could colour the dark Tallinn together with other Tallinners during the poor weather while exploiting the time in public transport mindfully?

Francesco, Jete, and Jekaterina started by talking with people from the city, to collect valuable insights about health: what is health for the people, how do they work on it, and so on. One of the more interesting findings was that the seasonal shift in the weather can be difficult to deal with, as inhabitants need to constantly adjust their lifestyle and routine to changes.

They defined the design challenge as follows: How to help Tallinn people keep a healthy routine in poor weather? As their target group, they focused on commuters. They saw commuting as an opportunity to intervene in the delicate transition between private and public life.

The idea is to initiate commuters to exploit the time in public transport mindfully, by colouring. Every day Tallinners can colour a new black and white object that they can discover and collect from the screen at the bus stop. At the end of the commute, users can share their artwork on the bus stop’s screen. By doing so everyone can participate in creating a shared graffiti and to bring colors and light to Tallinn during the dark season.

Enhancing Our Connection With Four-Legged Friends and the Environment by Exploring New Places Together

What if we could make Tallinn healthier by helping dog owners connect to their dogs, their environment and other dog owners by exploring new places together?

Danai, Diana, and Joosep’s concept helps dog owners to be more present in the moment when they take their dogs out. Walking your dog is an activity that helps you disconnect from the noise and connect with nature and possibly other dog owners, but most owners are distracted by social media and not too focused on their pets when taking them out. The students are proposing an engaging experience, that encourages owners to pay more attention to their dog, mix up their routine by discovering new routes each time, connect with other people and go on longer walks.

During conversations, the team met a dog owner that explained to them how having a dog encourages her to walk more and feel healthier, both physically and mentally. This was a big source of inspiration for their final concept.

Through sketching, prototyping, and feedback from their classmates and mentors, the team developed their ideas until they decided upon the final concept and target group. Their target group became dog owners, and to remove screens from the experience, they designed a collar that would engage the owner and the dog in a treasure hunt when going on a walk.

Through this collar, the user can;

  1. Play alone or with other dog owners
  2. Receive voice clues and visual cues (color) to know if they are close to the clue location,
  3. Teach their dog certain tricks,
  4. And receive points for each trick done right and location found.

Those points they could later use to get discounts on products and services related to their dog (e.g. pet stores, vets). The collar connects with various sensors that are scattered around a large park and each time the owner reaches one sensor the next hint is given, leading randomly to the next location and creating a new route each time the owner goes out for a walk.

With their concept, the team is proposing Tallinn dog owners a reason for putting away their phones and focusing on their pets. It is an engaging experience to spend more time outside with the possibility to connect to other dog owners.

Improving the Environment of Tallinn While Enhancing the Relationships Between Family Members

What if we planted a tree for every newborn?

Ali, Mikk, and Valentina created the project called “a34U: A tree for you” to make Tallinn healthier. The idea is about improving the environment of Tallinn while enhancing the relationships between family members.

When a new baby is born, the parents are awarded a tree — the seed is planted by government officials. Together with the birth kit given at the hospital, the family would receive a smart photo frame, where they can see the actual tree.

The smart frame is used to showcase the progress of the tree at the park. It communicates its celebrations via notifications: Roots are planted, first leaves, celebrate birthdays together with a newborn. Via smart frame, it is possible to ask questions through voice. Frame is able to recognise the specific voices and interact based on it:

  1. Ask about both your individual tree and whole park/Tallinn environment
  2. How much oxygen the tree has produced
  3. How much carbon dioxide the tree has absorbed
  4. Ask to show a hyper-lapse of the growth

The idea is essential because it reminds people to focus on the family while inviting them to be part of something bigger. Healthiness can’t be just about physical activity, so the improvement of the urban environment together with finding value in one’s life is the healthiness.

The teams were mentored by Nesli Hazal Akbulut ( with helping feedback from Tanel Kärp (, Keit Ein (FLUX) and Maarja Mõtus (EKA). The course was prepared based on the materials by the Interaction Design Foundation and Amid Moradganjeh (IDEO).